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Judge issues final judgement preventing licensing of Texas family detention centers

According to a press release from Grassroots Leadership, an Austin judge has issued a final judgement on a lawsuit by immigrant families to stop the licensing of family detention facilities in Texas.

The decision by Judge Karin Crump of the 250th District Court will effectively prevent the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from issuing licenses to the nation's two largest family detention centers - the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas. Both of these facilities are run by private prison corporations, with the Dilley facility run by CoreCivic (formerly CCA), and Karnes operated by GEO Group.

The lawsuit had initially halted the licensing procedures of the Dilley family detention center as a child care facility, and this ruling invalidates the original DFPS rule that allowed the facilities to be licensed. Italso invalidates the license that the Karnes facility had received before the case could be presented to a judge, since it involves an invalidated regulation, as well as prevents further attempts at licensing without action by the Texas legislature.

"The conditions at Karnes and Dilley are equivalent to prisons, not childcare facilities,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a plaintiff in the case.  “We are glad the court heard our concerns about the damage that family detention does to mothers and their children and how lowering standards to issue licenses to these facilities only exacerbates that harm.  We now call on the Obama Administration to end the practice of detaining immigrant families once and for all.”


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Texas Blocked From Giving Childcare License to South Texas Immigration Lockup

A judge in Austin ruled today that Texas officials cannot lower their standards for childcare facilities in order to license a privately owned and operated immigrant family lockup in the South Texas town of Dilley, according to the San Antonio Current.

250th District Judge Karin Crump decided to block the state licensing of the South Texas Family Residential Center in court today. The Obama administration has used the facility, more commonly known as the Dilley family detention camp, since 2014 to detain women and children who are in the U.S. seeking asylum. Crump focused on special exemptions that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services made for immigrant detention centers.

Immigrant rights advocates and others have said that the exemptions allow family detention centers to bypass many rules that exist for children's safety, including one which states that children are not to be housed with unrelated adults.

According to the Texas Tribune, Crump said "The exceptions allow and have allowed for situations for children that are dangerous. And this temporary injunction addresses those concerns."

This ruling comes at an interesting time for the Obama administration’s family detention policy. Obama’s administration is currently appealing a ruling by a federal judge in California ordering the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reform how it detains immigrant children. As previously reported, federal district Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled that current family detention policy was in violation of an 18-year-old settlement and that children could not be housed in unlicensed, prison-like facilities.

As for the family detention camp in Dilley, Denise Gilman, the director of the University of Texas' immigration law clinic, said that even if licensed, Dilley and a similar facility in Karnes County would not comply with Judge Gee’s ruling, which states that children must be housed in non-secure (not prison-like) facilities. "These are still detention centers, no matter how you look at them," she says.

The case will proceed to a full trial in September.

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Lawsuit halts licensing of private family detention centers as childcare facilities, at least for now

CCA's family detention center in Dilley
CCA's family detention center in Dilley
A lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership (my organization, and a co-sponsor of Texas Prison Bid'ness) won a temporary injunction on November 20th that halts the Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing two large, for-profit detention centers in South Texas as childcare facilities.  Private prison corporations Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are seeking the licenses for the prisons in Dilley and Karnes City respectively in order to comply with a finding by Federal Judge Dolly Gee that detaining children in unlicensed, secure detention centers violates a decades old settlement known as Flores.   

250th District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the state had errered in issuing and emergency that allowed the agency to license the facilities without interested parties, including Grassroots Leadership, being able to comment on the licensure rule.  The state has now issued a proposed permanent rule on the licensing that allows public comment before December 13th.  

Similar to the emergency rule, the permanent rule also proposes to reduce child safety standards that are applicable to all other childcare facilities in Texas, essentially fitting the licensing regulation to the facilities rather than making the two detention centers meet all normal child welfare standards.  Organizations and invividuals are able to make comments on the proposed licensure of the facilities through a form on the Grassroots Leadership website.  

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